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Between The Questions

August 25, 2015

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“It’s not like having a sore foot,” said Shing, pointing to his sheepskin-slippered toes.

“At least you’ve got some distance from it there… I mean, your head is the thing you think with!” finger now to his right temple.

For once there was no mystery as to this ailment’s origins: the pub quiz at the Mirland, and the pints that flow between the questions.

I went to fish out the hot-water bottle from his bed and found it empty. “Did I not fill this for you yesterday?”

He started faffing, humming a wee tune: classic Shing evasion tactics. He tried changing the subject (something about Stuart’s court case) but I persisted, eventually discovering the truth: he’d been in such an incapacitated hungover state when he woke up the daft bugger had resorted to drinking the contents of his (cold) hot-water bottle!

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Deo’s Ba’

May 20, 2015

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Johnny Deo’s been going bald for years, but now he’s really going bald.

With summer fast approaching there’s an additional difficulty: he plays in a local street rugby game, held once a year on County Show day between the Baas and the Haas (short for the baldies and hairies). He comes from a long line of hairies, so this year is going to be… a bit tricky.

A certain amount of receding is permitted on the hairy side: the odd wee penalty spot here and there, over-compensated by wild-man Viking hair-dos and extravagant comb-overs. But everyone knows when enough is enough.

At that point you have a choice: either defect to the baldy side (as you can imagine, not the most popular move) or give up altogether.

Needless to say, there’s not many defections the other way.

Houton Again

May 12, 2015

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“Houton again.”

The elderly conductor is slowly making his way up the bus, printing out tickets from his little machine, announcing each requested destination in a loud voice. This is the main bus to the Houton ferry over to Hoy where Merv, myself and (it would seem) everybody else is headed.

“Houton again,” he says, tapping at the machine.

One of the young guys behind us starts giggling with his mate, repeating ‘Houton again’ in a daft voice. Another mate of theirs, on the other side of the aisle, chips in with some sweary banter – a white seat-cover from the bus tied round his frizzy ginger hair-do and under his hairless chin, like an old woman’s headscarf. One of them says to the other, “Give us a shot on that kebab!” So, that was what the smell was…

Merv says, “Young folk..” and scowls out the window, forgetting how fairly young he is himself.

I’m sure I recognize them. Fiddlers? The New School of Strathspey and Reel?

“Houton, please,” I say to the old smiling face above me.

The Spirit Of Debate

April 29, 2015

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“You’re more cut off in a place like London than you are here, on a real island”, said Crop. “I bet, if you timed two plumbers… or, if you had someone with internal injuries… you’d see.”

Lena looked up from her phone as if she’d been teleported down from another planet. “Eh?”

“Postcard bubbles”, said Crop.

Merv looked up from his phone and piped in, equally confused: “Like the bends, you mean?”

“Post-code, he means”, I said.

We all sank back into our phones.

Crop sat in silence for a while, before announcing: “The Spirit Of Debate is dead in this county”.

Debonair And Panache

April 29, 2015

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“Debonair”, Lena said, repeating the brand name on the back of the plate. “Very 70s… Like ‘Panache!”

We were packing away old Billick’s things. Once Ina had gone he didn’t last six months. Sometimes the way.

You’d never see one without the other – she ended almost every sentence with: “…didn’t we, Bill?” Whatever they did, they did it together.

The pattern on the plates made my eyes go funny. I wrapped them up as quick as I could and said, “The Green Door will be happy to receive them, I’m sure.”

“Or the Samaritans”, said Lena, eyeing up a particularly funky-looking gravy boat.

House Of Nettles

November 24, 2014

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“A house of nettles”, Rockford said, tapping his way through endless channels of adverts on the Swona TV.

He’d never been a stranger to discomfort, as his nickname implied.
“If you can’t keep control… If you can’t apply the brakes in time. Down you go. Into the house of..”
“More to the point,” I said,”Would you mind passing me the remote control, please?” attempting to divert myself and the others from the inevitable: the back seat of his parents’ fluorescent orange Talbot Horizon; a rolled up poster of Queen live on his knee, Freddie at the height of his powers in a black and white harlequin leotard; the car swerving like crazy, front wheel last spotted jumping the ditch down into where the Horizon also headed: a low boggy field, the abandoned roofless house of…
Like when my legs couldn’t stop running, racing my sister down the holiday hill; the ridge getting closer and closer, and you first spy the chimney, the gable…
“Was I speaking to you Mrs Message?” Rockford says, thinking to rile me with this name – given only to those deemed to be, in any way, ‘management’.
He chucked over the remote just as the deluge of adverts finished and we all got back to some cooking.

Thorn In My Side

March 22, 2012

We were sitting in the Queen’s, me and Kenny, talking about his Dad. “It’s funny,” he said, “Music’s been such a big part of his life. Yet he’d never dream of writing his own. It’s funny, isn’t it?”

I could barely hear above the din of the football on the TV. “It’s like most of the bands, out and about,” I said, “I remember when ‘Thorn In My Side’ by Eurythmics came out. Crystal Clouston – remember her? Big yellow hair. Her and the Jacky Johns boys, they played it the very next weekend at the parish dance. I couldn’t believe it. It was like being at Top Of The Pops!”

“Eh?” He frowned, leaning closer. High octane football commentary blasted out of the big flat screen on the wall.

So we wandered through to the lounge bar for some peace and quiet, surprising  Lorraine, standing in a dwam behind the bar.

I said, “Even Merv. He’s just into covers.” I sat down on a stool by the window with my G & T. “He told me he’d written this one song, a lovely acoustic ballad he put on a Speedbooth compilation tape for me: ‘Shanghai’d In Love’. I used to listen to it all the time. And it turns out it’s a blooming Bay City flipping Rollers song! What a cheek!”

“Aye,” Kenny said, “I could’ve told you that,” and chuckled. “Still,” he said, “They’re susceptible to the odd jam session, aren’t they?” I think he must’ve been confusing Speedbooth with The Blood Group or The Baskets, but before I could put him right he said, ” I mean, that’s a whole creative thing right there.”

Of course, I could’ve just said, ” Copying Angus Young or Stevie Ray Vaughan, more like!” but held my tongue.

He looked at me, over his rum and coke, and said very seriously, ” There’s no jamming in The Salvation Army”.